|Officials Right to be Nervous About Privacy Breach|
Taken from Cdn-Firearms Digest Thursday, May 23 2002 Volume 04 : Number 766
Date: Thu, 23 May 2002 09:24:16 -0600
From: "Breitkreuz, Garry - Assistant 1" <BreitG0@parl.gc.ca>
Subject: Column: Officials right to be nervous about privacy breach
PUBLICATION: The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon)
COLUMN: John Gormley
BYLINE: John Gormley
SOURCE: The StarPhoenix
Officials right to be nervous about privacy breach
There are some people who are a bit twitchy at the moment. It has to do with privacy. And the most nervous might include Saskatoon's new police chief, Regina's top cop, the RCMP, some senior civil servants, private investigators and even certain lawyers in the province.
The story began when The StarPhoenix reported that the Saskatoon Police Service was investigating some of its own staff for releasing, without authorization, information from <CPIC>, the Canadian Police Information Centre computer database.
The investigation has grown to include at least four RCMP officers, three Regina police officers and now six provincial government employees at Saskatchewan Government Insurance, SaskPower, and the Department of Social Services. On my CKOM radio show, the premier's deputy minister confirmed that all of the government employees had access to databases.
While the police are saying painfully little, it seems that certain people in police and government circles may have been giving confidential information to outsiders -- including private investigators. Imagine, if you were a private dick (many of them are retired police officers) how easy it would be to dig up dirt on people if you could get cops and civil servants to cough up their database information.
From <CPIC> to government databases there is a plethora of information on you -- everything from your health and medical information, to income tax, your car and drivers' licence, gun control details, credit data, power and phone bills, welfare and child information, it's all there.
As citizens, we have struck a reluctant deal with our governments. We surrender vast amounts of sensitive information about ourselves -- often grudgingly -- on the condition that it is kept secret and used only by those with a legitimate purpose. It is not part of the bargain that the gatekeepers can release our information inappropriately.
Do not be naive enough to think that some cops don't occasionally enter a neighbour or new friend's name (particularly new boyfriends of daughters) into <CPIC> just to have a look-see. Or what about civil servants who run a licence plate through their database? Rules are bent all the time. It's not right, but it happens.
This is a far cry from handing over information to people who are using it for commercial purposes, like private investigators. For good reason, our police and civil servants must work within an exceedingly high expectation of privacy.
We would do well to remember Quebec, where motor vehicles branch staff leaked addresses and licence plates, as a favour to a friend, or so they thought. The "friend" happened to be working for a biker gang who then used the information to locate a journalist who was gunned down by a would-be assassin.
Here at home, this information scandal could not have come at a worse time for Saskatoon's police force. On the heels of the damaging Darrell Night case, if there is one police department in the nation that didn't need another public relations fiasco, it is ours. This kind of scandal will do nothing for the police department's image nightmare of the past two years.
Unfortunately, the police brass have not distinguished themselves on this one. Rather than reassuring the community that sensitive information is safe and that the police service is co-operating, there has been silence -- too much silence and butt covering.
With this city's obscenely high property taxes paying the bills for policing, you'd think that we, as citizens, deserve better than institutional reticence, ducking and covering from our police. Or make that cowering.
The big concern now is who may have benefited from the release of information and exactly what was released. It is clear that the people and agencies responsible for releasing information have violated the privacy of citizens whose data was given in confidence. Arguably, anyone who receives or uses this information has also violated the victim's right to privacy. And so on, up the chain it goes.
Doubtless, this is where some law firms -- who are the most frequent users of private investigators -- are likely doing a little research just about now on their liability, if they have been using confidential information obtained by violating someone's privacy rights.
For more than 20 years, Saskatchewan's Privacy Act has existed as a unique but rarely used law. The act sets up a legal action, where a lawsuit can be filed in Queens Bench Court, when "a person willfully and without claim of right . . . violate(s) the privacy of another person."
Under this law, the victim does not need to prove damage, only that his or her privacy was violated. In addition to suing for money, the victim can also get an accounting for the profits that were made by reason of the privacy violation.
So, imagine now that you are a private investigator or the senior partner of a successful law firm, or the police chief or a high ranking civil servant. Then imagine one citizen, fed up with this information schnozzle, who is able to prove that someone in government or uniform released information improperly and caused a breach of privacy.
All it takes is that one citizen finding an industrious and public minded lawyer prepared to take the case. As these things snowball, there will be another client, and then another.
By the time it's done, the lawsuits could multiply, just as tainted water and residential school cases have.
And -- for those in charge -- that's worth getting nervous about.
John Gormley can be heard Monday to Friday at 8:30 a.m. to 12:30
p.m. on 650 CKOM News Talk Radio
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